Disneyland Planning for Disney World Experts

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Planning for Disney World is what I do, but planning for Disneyland is proving to be an entirely different matter. Joining the pilgrimage of Disney fans to Walt Disney’s original park? If you’re a Walt Disney World veteran, you’re going to need new skills for Disneyland planning. Or for some, old ones.

Disneyland Resort offers a host of new experiences for the Disney World veteran, such as World of Color at Disney California Adventure.
Disneyland Resort offers a host of new experiences for the Disney World veteran, such as World of Color at Disney California Adventure.

If you’ve been visiting Walt Disney World Resort long enough, you remember the days before FastPass+, My Disney Experience, even that weird blip when dining reservations were only available 90 days in advance. You remember planning your days with a much more loose feel, instead of racing from one reservation to the next. Of course, those days are gone. That knowledge is useless now.

Or is it? For Disney World veterans traveling to Disneyland Resort, planning a visit can feel like a return to form. So how does a Disneyland trip differ from a Walt Disney World trip? Dining, touring plans, getting around the resort, and fitting in extras and off-site adventures are all different with Disneyland planning. Let’s take a look.

Dining: 180 days prior to arrival, I’m rising with the sun to book Walt Disney World dining reservations. With a Disneyland trip, 180 days comes and goes without fanfare. You’ll have to wait until 60 days prior to your visit to make Disneyland dining reservations.

And I found that booking Disneyland dining isn’t the white-knuckle experience I usually have while trying to nail down a week’s worth of hard-to-get dining experiences at Disney World. (Possibly I should stop going to Orlando during Free Dining.) My experience was almost suspiciously simple. I just went to Disneyland’s website, clicked around leisurely, and booked what I wanted, when I wanted it. And, if you want to dine with me, there are plenty of seatings still available — just a few weeks away as I write this!

If you want a reservation for character dining or a signature dining experience such as the Napa Rose, you’ll still want to book as close to the 60-day mark as possible. But otherwise, the excellent reputation of Disneyland’s many eateries, both counter-service and table-service, seems to create a more balanced dining situation than Walt Disney World’s do-or-die hot list of restaurants.

At Disneyland Resort, riding headliner attractions still means a special trip to pick up a FASTPASS for later.
At Disneyland Resort, riding headliner attractions still means a special trip to pick up a FASTPASS for later.

Touring Plans: Of course, a Walt Disney World touring plan is a formidable thing these days. Working in your FastPass+ reservations, calculating the distance between reserved attractions, allowing for the possibility of being hemmed in by a parade, prioritizing your top three attractions, etc. — that all takes real effort! I find writing Disney World itineraries challenging, but the end result does seem a little comforting. The certainty of having every minute planned out doesn’t scream vacation to some, but it sure does look hassle-free once the planning is done.

And the simplicity of FastPass+ can grow on you! *Click* no wait for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad! *Click* no wait for Soarin’! (Insert happy cackle here.) I had to wonder if I even remembered how to plan for the erratic nature of FASTPASS return times. To say nothing of the anxiety I have just thinking about the fact that I might have to use a park map–something I haven’t done in years at Walt Disney World.

To make the most of our time without having first-hand experience (or a photographic memory of a park I know better than my own neighborhood) I’m using a slightly modified Disneyland 2-Day Plan B for Disneyland Park, and an optimized Touring Plan for Disney California Adventure, which includes FASTPASS suggestions and estimated return times, and allows for arriving early, a midday break, and staying late.

Transportation & Accomodations: I am taking the loss of my beloved Magical Express rather hard, since I like to enter the Disney bubble the moment I enter Terminal B at the airport and wave hello to the Cast Members with their Mickey Mitts. But with the Disneyland Resort Express, which goes straight from local airports (LAX, John Wayne) to the Disneyland Resort before making stops at area hotels, as well as other local shuttles and cabs in place, there are plenty of options to make it a little easier to deal with a non-magical transit experience.

And even staying off-site can offer easy access to Disneyland Resort: some Good Neighbor hotels are actually just as close to the Disneyland main entrance as on-site hotels. If walking is a little too far, Anaheim Resort Transportation’s (ART) trolley system is included in many Disneyland Good Neighbor packages, or passes can be added inexpensively: as little as $5 for a day pass, or $20 for a 5-day pass.

Staying at The Disneyland Hotel affords guests the ability to walk right to the parks and Downtown Disney.
Staying at The Disneyland Hotel affords guests the ability to walk right to the parks and Downtown Disney.

Staying at the Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, or Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel also means you’re just steps away from Downtown Disney and the theme parks, promising plenty of fun without ever setting foot in a motorized vehicle. Once within the Disneyland Resort area, the utter lack of transportation (besides attractions like the monorail and the Main Street vehicles) promises to be a refreshing change of pace from a typical Disney World day for our family, which usually involves at least four buses and possibly a boat or two. Which leads us to…

Two Parks, One… Resort Area: Only two theme parks, three resort hotels, and Downtown Disney might feel like roughing it for Disney World veterans. For our part, I’d say that having less than 43 square miles for our vacation needs will be new, but I’m sure we’ll work through it. In addition to plenty of pool-time, we’re actually planning on going off-site, something that just doesn’t happen during our Disney World vacations. San Diego beckons, as do a few sites closer to the resort, including the new Anaheim Packing District, which boasts artisanal food vendors in a restored orange packing house.

Also within easy reach are all the sights of Hollywood, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Pacific Ocean, and plenty more to keep families busy. But if you can’t tear yourself away from Disney property yet, there’s a lot packed into Disneyland’s two theme parks which easily demands as much attention as Disney World’s four!

There are 52 attractions listed on the Disneyland Park map in The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland 2014. That doesn’t include the many extra details that aren’t “attractions” but are still unique Disneyland offerings. Entertainment like the Golden Horseshoe Revue, architectural detailing such as that around New Orleans Square, even historical relics from Walt Disney’s time, like the petrified tree stump that he famously gave to his wife for her birthday, are all part of Disneyland’s charm.

And that’s just Disneyland Park. Across the esplanade you have Disney California Adventure, adjacent you have Downtown Disney, and the resort hotels themselves. I’m especially looking forward to resort tours at Disneyland Hotel and at the Grand Californian Hotel.

All in all, for this Disneyland trip, I’ve given less time to planning and am allowing more time for exploration, both in and out of Disney’s boundaries, than I’ve been able to with any of our recent Walt Disney World vacations. While I certainly have a basic touring plan, airport transportation, and some table-service dining lined up, the detailed itinerary that includes careful calculations of travel times between parks and resorts, dining reservations and confirmation numbers, and FastPass+ windows isn’t coming with me this time. Disney World veterans heading to Disneyland for the first time, look forward to playing by new (and maybe familiar) rules when you visit Walt Disney’s original park.

Natalie Reinert

One of those Florida locals who can usually tell you if it's going to rain by the sun angle and the feel of the air, I'm an avid weather fan and a certified weather spotter for the National Weather Service's SkyWarn program. I tweet about Central Florida weather at @WeatheratWDW. As I work for Walt Disney World, please note all of my views are my own, and do not represent the views of The Walt Disney Company.

16 thoughts on “Disneyland Planning for Disney World Experts

  • July 15, 2014 at 2:21 pm
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    A longtime WDW’er here who took a first trip to Disneyland a few years ago here…my two cents.

    – Adjusting distances. I joked that I must have developed an internal “Disney Distance” in my head, because we’d look at a map to go to, say, Pirates. What was expected to be a longer walk was just a couple of steps!

    Combining that with the fact that everything is in walking distance once you’re on the resort property, you won’t miss those buses one bit.

    – The Disneyland Resort Express isn’t as themed as DME, but let’s face it, after a long flight, I didn’t give a flip. You can buy your tickets on the bus, and be prepared to transfer to another bus at the Disneyland Hotel if you’re not staying there.

    – If you can, try and book a hotel that has its own Disneyland shuttle, separate from the ART. We stayed at the Hampton Inn, which shared a shuttle with the hotels right next door. Very quick, always on time.

    – All in all, it’s a very different trip that WDW. I found that it didn’t seem quite as fast-paced – especially going in the off-season when the parks didn’t open until say 9am! For a central time zone person, getting up at 6am (which is really 5am internally) at WDW to getting up at 7am (which is really 9am) at DL was quite nice.

    – Parkhopping: this one’s probably going to be your personal preference, but I’d still recommend it. We had four days in the parks, so each park got a day to itself, and the other two we went back and forth – quite easy to do with just a quick walk across the promenade.

    • July 15, 2014 at 2:32 pm
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      All excellent tips! Thank you so much for adding them!

      We are big on relaxing during our Disney vacations (unlike a lot of people, I know) and it’s nice to hear that it’s easier to have a relaxing experience. Especially when you consider that the regular park opening is 8 AM… and Magic Morning is at 7 AM! Yikes!

      We aren’t planning on Park Hopping, just to save the money, but I could see how it could come in handy for the last day or two of a four+ day trip. So I’m open to the possibility of upgrading our tickets.

      • July 16, 2014 at 8:00 am
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        Let’s see, since you’re from another coast, you’ll be up at 4 am, CA time.

        • July 16, 2014 at 8:07 pm
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          Well I was up at three this morning, and now according to my computer it is 8:06 PM, but we’re about to grab some iced coffee and hit the Disneyland Hotel pool.. I’m just going to go with it until I crash, I guess!

  • July 15, 2014 at 3:00 pm
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    Sounds fabulous! I missed my opportunity to visit Disneyland about 10 years ago when I went to LA with friends,and I have been kicking myself ever since. We will have to plan a visit with the whole family sometime soon…D23 2015?

    • July 15, 2014 at 8:05 pm
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      I’d love to think I’ll be at D23 2015! I hope you make it!

      • July 16, 2014 at 7:59 am
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        We’ll make sure you’re at D23 2015! There’s a group of your friends who will be there.

  • July 15, 2014 at 3:34 pm
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    In spite of living on the West Coast, we have not returned to Disneyland since 1987. Once we saw WDW in 1990, we thought the experience there was so superior. We hated driving in LA traffic, the smog and crummy hotels, but most importantly, WDW gave us a feeling of such peace and calm, of leaving the real world behind. Disneyland was not like that.
    Of course, if you are interested in the LA thing, and seeing the Pacific etc. you really can’t compare one to the other. ( I should add, Oregonians feel much superior to Californians, as everything in Oregon is cleaner and healthier, lol.)

    I guess I should say too, we were in a terrible earthquake the night we arrived, scared us all senseless, so that was part of the experience.

    We have found that WDW doesn’t have to be the crazy rush it was the first couple of times we went. Our resort had some quiet pools, the dining plan allowed us to dine leisurely at fabulous restaurants, we slept whenever we wanted, we snacked, and strolled and people watched. The key was to stay 12 days, off season, instead of a week.

    On our last trip to WDW we met a couple from Anaheim – they told us they don’t DO Disneyland, isn’t that funny !

    • July 15, 2014 at 8:08 pm
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      Please don’t mention earthquakes, Jan! Haha!

      “The bubble” of WDW is of course a huge part of its appeal, especially for my family, as I was a Cast Member and my son went to daycare and preschool right on WDW property, we lived right off-property and could hear the ferry boats and even Spectromagic if the wind was right (RIP). WDW is truly our family’s hometown, and it’s big enough to say that and mean it!

      I’m looking forward to exploring DLR’s special charms as an individual place, and trying really hard not to compare it to WDW. But we all know there’s no place like home…

  • July 15, 2014 at 3:44 pm
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    I heartily agree with Natalie. I’m a die hard WDW visitor, but I look forward to my yearly trip to DLR which I am in the planning for currently. That planning revolves mostly about air fare and hotel accommodations. I find the parks so much easier to navigate. When asked how do the parks compare, I reply “the same, but different”. Park hopping so so easy, it is less stressful than WDW. If you forgot to catch something, 10 minutes if you are having to travel from the farthest reaches of each park.

    Additionally, the people are vastly different. I find cast members so much more friendly and helpful. Even the guests tend to be more polite than the tourist based WDW demographic. First visit, wearing our WDW gear, prompted other park guests to ask if we had any questions or needed help to find anything. Don’t expect that at WDW.

    With many legacy attractions that have been removed from WDW, you get the feel back to when the Magic Kingdom opened in the 70’s. Everything is much closer, but you still may get confused why you don’t go from one attraction to another the same way you do at WDW, you might have to go to the other park. Under the Sea with Ariel is at DCA, not DL, so don’t look for it there. But, a review of the maps and a quick study, navigation becomes fairly easy.

    Besides the legacy attractions, DL/DCA has some attractions we don’t have at WDW. Don’t miss Cars Land or World of Color. True treats.

    Park hours vary greatly in the morning. There are some 8AM days and even 7am on Magic Morning days. But be aware, some days the parks don;t open until 10am. That caught me more than once. So, off to DTD for a quick beignet while waiting. Yes, take 5 minutes to walk over to DTD, not the long journey as compared to WDW.

    So, when planning a DLR trip, be prepared to have a relaxing visit. Bring your touring plans, but don’t worry about the major delays you can encounter at WDW (by delays I mean lines). So much easier to follow your touring plans. It will be fun and exciting.

    Back to planning my September visit. I can’t wait to see how they handle a birthday visit.

    • July 15, 2014 at 8:09 pm
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      “With many legacy attractions that have been removed from WDW, you get the feel back to when the Magic Kingdom opened in the 70′s.”

      I am really looking forward to riding Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride! Oh, how I have missed that ride!

  • July 16, 2014 at 8:38 am
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    AS a long time WDW visitor, I finally got my first chance to go the “Original Park”. It is wonderful to see the light in the Firehouse burning for Walt. Small world and Pirates are so much better than WDW that they are really 2 different experiences. It is amazing how they have managed to put so much into a relatively small space. Everything is very compact, which is good and also as Walt found out bad. One thing to watch, if you are in Adventureland during Fantasmic, half of the walkway, which are narrow, are used for viewing so it can get very tight. Cars land and especially the Radiator Springs Racers will blow our mind. Just like Soarin, they really need to bring it back east. It was a great experience. One that I really needed to take being a huge fan of Walt Disney, the man. Enjoy your trip and safe travels!!

  • July 16, 2014 at 9:42 am
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    Don’t forget to eat the Montecristo sandwich at New Orleans Square. It’s phenomenal! I recommend to eat it outdoors at the Cafe Orleans so you can have a beautiful view of the Rivers of America and still watch people walk by. Much better than Blue Bayou where you only see the Pirates ships pass you by (granted, the ambience at Blue Bayou is great)

    • July 16, 2014 at 8:08 pm
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      The list of delicious things I want to eat at Disneyland is as long as my arm, and the monte cristo is definitely on it! Does anyone else have any must-eat treats to share?

      • July 17, 2014 at 1:38 pm
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        I LOVE the cupcakes that they have at the Jolly Holiday bakery. The clam chowder at New Orleans Square near the Blue Bayou is also a must. Seriously delicious. They also have great apple fritters there too that are worth a try! 🙂

        But I have to agree. The Monte Cristo might honestly be my favorite thing to get 🙂

    • July 19, 2014 at 10:50 am
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      I love that you can get the monte cristo at both locations. We went with Blue Bayou because after five hours in the park I wanted the peace and quiet… it was lovely!

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